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Domestic-Violence Victims Get Tips

May 8, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Victims of domestic violence soon may find it a bit easier to get safety tips and advice on how to escape abusive relationships. The information could be as handy as their workplace or the ladies’ room of a local restaurant.

The nation’s largest lawyers’ organization has prepared a safety guide and is asking corporations to distribute it to employees and the general public. Among the suggestions:

_If you are being threatened or attacked, stay away from the kitchen where the abuser can find knives or other weapons.

_Keep a bag packed with things you would need if you had to leave quickly, such as cash, car keys, court papers, medical records or medicines. Keep the bag in a safe place or give it to a friend or relative.

_If a court has issued a protective order, keep a copy with you at all times along with emergency phone numbers.

Many women are not ready to go to court for a protection order or leave their abuser, but want to find out what their options are, says Michael Bedke, a Tampa, Fla., lawyer who is co-chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence.

Bedke specializes in real estate and banking law, but he also provides free legal help to victims of domestic violence and encourages other lawyers to do the same.

``If you only take one case a year it would be huge,″ said Bedke. ``You don’t have to give up your private practice to do this.″

The bar association panel is asking corporations to provide the brochures, perhaps by putting them in ladies’ rooms where people can take one without attracting attention. The first company to sign on was Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken.

``Maybe that woman will never call the police, but she will go to work″ where she can pick up the guide, says Bonnie Campbell, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women.

``She’s getting tips on how to develop and implement a safety plan,″ Campbell said.

The brochure gives the number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can tell someone where to get help locally.

It also advises abuse victims to ask a local domestic violence program for help finding a lawyer who can get a court order requiring the abuser to stay away or aid in a criminal prosecution. In court, it says, bring a friend or relative; you do not have to look at or talk to the abuser or his family.

Such advice can be valuable because many abused women have been cut off from relatives or other people who could help them, said Lynne Gold-Bikin, co-chairman of the bar group with Bedke. The goal, she said, is for all major corporations to distribute the safety guides.

Melissa Morbeck of Boston says her employer, Hill Holliday Advertising, helped put her life back together after she escaped from an abusive home.

``My company hired someone who was very frightened and very alone″ and using an assumed name to avoid being found, Morbeck said. The company provided physical therapy to recover from her injuries.

But Bedke said some victims of domestic violence wind up being fired because their employer does not want to deal with absenteeism or the possibility that the abuser might cause trouble at the workplace.

Bedke was not used to courtroom work when he took his first domestic violence case about five years ago.

``I really had significant trepidation with the first couple of cases I worked on,″ Bedke said. But he got help from lawyers in his firm who specialize in litigation. Now he handles two or three domestic violence cases a year for free.

Such cases are relatively easy to handle but ``make a huge positive difference in terms of making a real change in the life of a real person,″ he said.

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The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Laurie Asseo covers the Supreme Court and legal issues for The Associated Press.

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